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Viking: 40th Anniversary of First Landing on Mars


What were you doing on July 20, 1976? Maybe you were watching the morning news to see the very first images of the Martian surface. Do you remember being fascinated by the “tantalizingly thin slivers of a picture” described by a NASA commentator at Mission Control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena as he watched the first images slowly coming in from Viking 1?

Next week, NASA celebrates the 40th Anniversary. Viking 1, the first successful landing on Mars by a U.S. space craft occurred on July 20, 1976 and Viking 2 landed on September 3, 1976. With these missions, we began our exploration of the red planet which continues today. The Viking Mission was developed and managed at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. “It was one of the biggest adrenaline rushes of mine or anyone’s life. And the story, as it unfolded was a classic example of scientific discovery,” explained Gentry Lee,. In addition to collecting thousands of high-resolution images of Mars, Viking 1 and 2 collected an abundance of scientific data that characterized the structure and composition of the planet’s surface and was analyzed for signs of life, beginning the journey that will one day land humans on Mars.

Both Viking Orbiters and Landers operated on Mars years beyond what was expected. Dr. Joel S. Levine, Research Professor in the Department of Applied Science at the College of William & Mary, former NASA Senior Research Scientist in the Science Directorate and co-editor of The Human Mission to Mars: Colonizing the Red Planet, who developed theoretical models of the atmosphere of Mars for the Viking Mission, explains how the work of Viking continues to inform researchers today. “Viking Landers 1 and 2 brought a complex payload of scientific instruments to the surface to investigate the atmosphere and surface of the Red Planet, including 3 biology experiments to search for extant life on Mars. Interestingly, the search for life on Mars with dedicated biology experiments has not been repeated on any subsequent Mars landed missions. Forty years after the Viking biology experiments were performed on the surface of Mars, the measurements that were obtained are still being analyzed today. The Viking-developed techniques for entry, descent and landing (EDL) on Mars have been incorporated in every subsequent Mars soft-landing mission.”


Celebrate Viking’s 40th Anniversary with NASA:
On July 19 and 20, 2016 NASA will be celebrating the Viking Mission by live streaming panels and discussions taking place at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton Roads.

  • July 19 will feature a history discussion from 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. A panel of NASA historians and Roger Launius of the , will speak about the history of NASA’s Viking missions.
  • July 20 will feature the Viking 40th Anniversary Symposium from 8:00 a.m. to 5:10 p.m. “From NASA’s First Soft Landing to Humans on Mars,” will include a lineup of twenty speakers, including former Viking program scientists and engineers, The Martian, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Space Technology Steve Jurczyk, and many key members contributing to past, present and future Mars missions.

Watch a Live Stream of both events:

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